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Forbes – Employers / Teachers Asking Applicants To Fork Over Social Media Passwords

10 Mar

Earlier this week, Forbes staff writer Kashmir Hill wrote a piece titled: Hey Teacher (And Employer), Leave Those Facebook Passwords Alone.

It’s about school administrators and employers demanding Facebook passwords from students/applicants in order to screen private conversations to see if they are involved in any risky activity…such as illegal activity, gang-related activity, and for schools, apparently, sexual activity.

All I can say is…what?

There are so many things here that I just don’t understand.  Are criminals dumb enough to post about illegal activity on Facebook?  Do schools really have any authority in whether or not minors are talking about sex?  Is it just because it’s “posted” that they think they have some right to it?

Here’s a quote from privacy attorney Behnam Dayanim (who might make a killing off this Forbes article…and links to his site like this one…you’re welcome, Dayanim):

“Legally, the employer has a strong position. You can say no, but there’s no element of duress there. If you don’t get the job, you’re no worse off than you were before,” says Dayanim. “That said, as a policy matter for the employers, I think it’s a bad idea.”

True enough.  Let’s be honest.  If I went to an interview and an employer asked for my Facebook password in order to “check me out” to make sure I was a good fit/low risk,  I wouldn’t want that job.  It would be the equivalent of an employer asking to come to my house and go through my closet to make sure I have the proper work attire.  Or go through my mail. Or vet my friends and family.  Maybe there are jobs where that is normal, but frankly, I don’t want them.

I think that vetting applicants to such a degree makes sense if, say, you are hiring them to be international spies.  Maybe. I mean, I’m just saying that there may be some extenuating circumstances. Law enforcement can demand passwords, obviously, if a crime is being investigated.  Or, to the point at the end of the article about college football players being required to friend their coaches (with their full aggreement in advance of being given their free tuition), that does makes some sense in the same way that giving a personal trainer access to your refrigerator can make sense. The coach is there to make sure you don’t screw up.  But for the majority of cases? No.

Dayanim, as an attorney, wanted some law on the subject to protect the rest of us.

“Congress should clarify that this is not permissible and protect companies from liability for what their employees say and do privately on this medium”

Sort of agree. I mean, yes, clarification around whether or not my Facebook profile is my property in a Search and Seizure kind of way would make  it easier to defend privacy violation claims in a courtroom (it would certainly benefit lawyers like Dayanim).  But it IS a bit  more complicated.

I am not a lawyer, but I can see how this could get sticky. Let’s assume that there was a law that made individuals entirely responsible for their profiles and protected companies from their employees’ behavior in social networks.  What about people who use social networking for business?  Are they not subject to any behavioral standards even if their conversations online are directly resulting in business for the company?  What about when someone’s profile gets hacked?  Is that individual entirely responsible for the content then?  A written bill would have to consider all the angles.  I’m not saying it would be impossible to write, but I would be wary of the result, and especially that it would really be in the best interest of “the people.”

Besides which, the fact is that social profiles aren’t in the control of an individual.  Not really.  I mean, it may be in our name and we can set passwords and restrictions on who is viewing our posts, but the data is physically not ours.  We surrender it when we sign up. It is now “out there”…living on some server.  It belongs to Facebook, or Google, etc. and those controlling entities can change privacy settings anytime they want.  So if Congress were to enact privacy laws on personal profiles, it would put a heap of responsibility on Facebook/Google to ensure security.  They are under plenty of heat for that already, and rather flailing IMO.  A law such as Dayanim suggests would inhibit development.  It might even make social media cost prohibitive in its entirety.  You can be sure that any company with a stake in social media will fight that. And so will their users who manage to maintain an unobjectionable presence on social sites.

The world is changing.  Just see Google’s new privacy laws.  We are becoming more connected, less private, and way less censored.  On Facebook, and other social networks, yes, there’s a great deal “too much information” shared about daily thoughts and activities–the emotional outburst, the political rant, the immature argument, the messy break up, etc. and so on.  But in my opinion, most of what people post doesn’t make them unhirable. Companies need to move forward with the time. Things are simply more expressive now!  Besides which, these kinds of conversations happen in the office too, around the water cooler (and if they don’t then your office is probably an oppressive place to work.)  My point? Don’t have a policy to not hire someone because they engage in human conversations.  You should be able to assess a culture fit in other ways, if that is what you are concerned about. If an individual’s online behavior is so bad they would make a bad employee, they probably showcase that behavior “in real life” too.  You should pick up on it without having to hack personal accounts.

In the end, the old rules still apply:

  • Employees shouldn’t post anything wildly inappropriate that could potentially get them fired or not hired.
  • Employers, follow the Golden Rule when it comes to how you judge and treat your staff.

Just my 2 cents.

What Does Social Media Conversation Look Like? What Can You Learn From It?

16 Jan
Social Media Conversation

Social Media Conversation

How much of the online conversation about my brand is about products? How much is about the stores? Which products and which stores?  Are people motivated more by price or convenience?  How else do they make decisions?  What impact does  news have on the conversation?  Which is most interesting to consumers? Lawsuits? Politics?  Product recalls?

And so on.

These are the questions marketers often want social media analysis to answer. The value of social media monitoring is often compared to focus group research.  Only instead of prepackaged questions, you get unbound responses in which people will spill what they really think.

Marketers often want the answers in percentages.  X% of the conversation is about products. X% is about stores. X% is news. If you add up all the categories it will total 100%.  …right?

Gosh, I wish it was that easy.

You can certainly use social media to gain insights into these types of questions, but the fact that social media conversation isn’t prepackaged to provide specific answers to specific questions is a double-edged sword.  On one hand, yes, you get unbounded conversation.  People are free to talk about whatever they want to talk about and you can benefit from that by listening and learning and engaging with that conversation.  On the other hand, people are free to talk about whatever they want to talk about, and often what they want to talk about doesn’t align directly with your marketing goals or questions.

People might not mention your products at all.  Or your stores, or define which products or which stores if they do.  Often, a post will touch on several topics at once, so that adding all comments together is never going to equal 100%. Much of the time, the people talking aren’t your customers.  And so on.

If you are a retail marketer, you might be used to dealing with analytics that derive from hard numbers.  Number of products sold, amount of inventory available, price of product at time of sale, comparative numbers from last year, etc.  Your margins are probably well-understood.  They are likely razor thin.

Social media is different. We aren’t looking at numbers that are recorded and segmented for each and every transaction.  We are looking at conversation.  And conversation is a moving target.  People talk about things differently.  Sometimes they talk around things.   The vernacular changes.  And so does the manner of collection and ways in which you can segment the conversation. Conversation is ever-growing and evolving and shape-shifting.

Is the information usable?  Absolutely.  But it’s different than other kinds of market research.

You can learn amazing things.  You might learn that people are using your products for something other than their intended use.  You might discover a demographic or community that is surprisingly enthusiastic about your brand.  You might identify a pain point or controversy that your marketing department had no idea existed…or didn’t realize was as vocal a conversation as it appears in online discussion.

However, you are unlikely to be able to put all of the conversation collected into neat little boxes.  Ever.  And there is probably a great deal of content that isn’t going to fit into any box at all…at least not a traditional box.

My suggestion?  Don’t focus on the totals.  Too many people worry too much about “getting it all”. Getting all of the conversation, or segmenting all of the conversation, is not as important as getting enough conversation.  Yes, you will get numbers.  But like with other kinds of market research, you don’t need a survey from the entire populace, or an interview with every customer, to identify an insight. What you need is “enough” information to draw a conclusion.  Maybe you only saw a handful of people talking about your product having a defect.  But if that handful is the only conversation you are coming across…other than news…it might be significant.

I usually advise companies who know little about the social media conversation for their brand to do a landscape assessment.  Invest in some general research.  Rather than a small report that shows a piece of the puzzle, do a larger report that attempt to show the whole thing…shallowly, perhaps, but gives you an idea of the scope.  Don’t worry about detailed answers to your specific questions.  Just try to get a handle on what is there. Once you have a map, keep listening.  Over time, you will be able to identify what is a trend versus what isn’t. Be prepared to learn some things you didn’t expect and do some deep dive reporting to understand it better.

As you get more familiar with your data, a greater picture will emerge.  And then you will be ready to have some fun.

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